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Category Archives: reading tips
You can teach your child to read. Start with a phonics assessment.
Are you are planning to teach your child how to read this summer, either starting at the beginning or filling in the gaps? If so, where do you start? I suggest you give your child a pretest to see what reading skills your child has learned well, and what ones he has not yet grasped. The words on this pretest are more or less divided into four kinds of words in this order: 1. Short (closed) vowel, one-syllable words. These include one- and two-letter words, words beginning or ending with blends and digraphs (black, church) words which end in twin consonants (fell, jazz), words which end in “ck,” and words to which an “s” can be added to make plural words or certain verbs (maps, runs). 2. Long (open) vowel, one-syllable words. These include words ending with silent “e,” words with double vowels which have only one vowel pronounced (goes, pear), and certain letter combinations (ild, old). They also include words with “oi,” “oy,” “ow” and “ou” letters. 3. Two– and three-syllable words which follow the above rules (catnip, deplete) and two- and three-syllable words which don’t follow the above rules but which follow a pattern (light, yield). These words include words with certain suffixes (le, ies) and words with a single consonant between two vowels (robin, motel). 4. Exceptions. These include words with silent letters (gnaw, lamb), words from other languages (debris, cello), and words which fit no pattern (business). Ask your child to read the words in the pretest below. Each row across tests a particular phonics skill. If you child hesitates at all, that is the place to begin teaching him or her phonics. I will talk more about how to teach these four groups of phonics skills in my next blog. Phonics assessment bad, hem, fit, don, pug, am, if, lass, jazz lock, Mick, bills, cliffs, mitts, catnip, Batman grand, stent, frisk, stomp, stuck chuck, shun, them, branch, brush, tenth star, fern, birds, fork, purr, actor, doctor, victor muffin, kitten, collect, pepper, gallon complex, helmet, falcon, napkin, after tantrum, muskrat, constant, fulcrum, ostrich skate, bike, Jude, mole, dare, shore, tire, pure need, cheer, aim, hair, bay, pie, boat, oar, Joe, low, soul fruit, few, child, blind, fold, colt, roll, light, high earn, worm, rook, pool fault, claw, all, chalk, Walt boil, so, pound, down comet, dragon, liver, salad, denim total, ever, student, basic, demon, vital apron, elude, Ethan, Owen, ideal, usurp inside, nearly, absent, unicorn, degrade, tripod advance, offense, fence gripped, planned, melted, batted, handed sweeping, boiling, thinning, flopping, biking, dating rapper, saddest, finer, bluest, funnier, silliest easily, busily, massive, active, arrive, wives keys, monkeys, armies, carried action, section, musician, racial, crucial, nuptials brittle, pickle, carbon, dormer parcel, decent, gem, urge, badge lose, sugar, nature, sure graph, Phil, then, moth bomb, thumb, gnat, gnome, high, sign whip, whirl, echo, ghoul, knee, knob could, calf, folk, hustle, listen, wrist alone, bread, bear, chief, young, squaw, swan, waltz, word decision, exposure, gigantic, polarize, occupant, quarantine If you want to help your child learn to read, one of the best things you can do is not to let him guess. Most words can be deciphered if the student has a phonics background. Also, don’t let your child depend on pictures for meaning once the child starts to read. Most adult reading material is not accompanied by graphics. Students must learn to gain meaning from the text alone. If you have decided to help your child read this summer, good for you. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to help your child read better. Years of research show that the best way to teach reading is to start with letter sounds (phonemes) and then to combine those letter sounds into words (phonics). If you do this in a systematic way, such as following the four-part sequence I describe above, your child will learn to read.
Teaching kinesthetic learners how to read
Have you ever taught a student who acts like this?
- Changing positions frequently—sitting on a folded leg, kneeling on a chair, or wriggling her shoulders?
- Responding to a question with gestures—thumbs up, a face showing precise emotions, drawing a picture in the air?
- Reading out loud when he should be reading silently?
- Miming a situation or a reaction?
These students might be kinesthetic learners, people who need to engage their whole bodies to learn optimally. Some are hyperactive, tempermentally unable to sit still. Some are dyslexic, unable to read or to learn to read the usual way. Some are autistic, non verbal or preferring repetitive motions or intensely focused on one activity. Some are artistic, preferring to draw in almost every situation. Some are actors, dramatizing their responses.
The younger the child, the more apt he is to be a kinesthetic learner. Males tend to be kinesthetic learners longer than females. Children with highly focused hobbies or interests—assembling Legos for hours at a time, enjoying sports practice several times a week, wanting everything Spiderman, drawing and coloring every day—are probably kinesthetic learners.
The problem for kinesthetic learners is that most classrooms are made for the auditory learner, the person who sits still and listens to the teacher, the person who reads silently to learn, not for the person who roams, fidgets, mumbles, acts out, or plays games to learn.
So what hands-on activities will help your beginning reader to learn the alphabet and easy words?
- Ask the child to act out the letter shapes, that is, form the letters with her body.
- Allow nonverbal responses—pointing, gesturing, showing facial emotion, performing.
- Use games—letter tiles, for example—that offer the child the opportunity to pick up, arrange, and invent. Or hold letter “bees” in which the children form teams and the you hold up letters or words for a team member to identify.
- Teach using puppet shows—two characters debating what a given letter is, or how to hold a book, or if “fun” rhymes with “fan.”
- Let groups of students create an ABC book . The artist in the group might draw and color pictures while other students might cut out pictures from magazines and paste them.
- After you have read a story to students, ask some to act out the story to test comprehension. Let other students join in.
- Create an alphabet from Play Doh or Legos or pipe cleaners.
- Create word family books with drawings or cut-and-pasted pictures.
- Take a scavenger walk in the neighborhood to see shapes of letters in tree branches, sidewalk cracks, clouds or roof lines.
You might think, these activities take time and slow down the learning process. Yes, they do take time, and yes, they do slow down the initial learning process. But since this kind of learning sticks, you need to do less reteaching and may gain time in the long run. Just as importantly, students who are reprimanded for not sitting still or for being unable to leave a task they like are praised for their learning. These students become leaders, helping other children who are not as kinesthetically gifted.
Posted in ABC's, kinesthetic learning, learning, reading tips, teaching tips
Learning to read, one sound at a time
A six-year-old kindergartener learning to read VC and CVC words worked with me yesterday for the first time. We met the day before via zoom. He was nervous, sitting on his grandmother’s lap for support.
I started by assessing his phonics skills. Because he doesn’t know me and has not worked online, his responses to the phonics assessment I did might not be spot on. After a few lessons, when he is more relaxed, I will have a better idea of his skill level.
But for now he was able to show me he knows letter names, consonant sounds and short vowel sounds. He can sound VC words easily. When he reads CVC words, he cannot “slide” all the sounds together to form words. So that is where my reading instruction will begin.
Yesterday we worked using letter tiles. I put before him the word “at,” and then I added one onset letter sound at a time, forming words like “fat” and “rat.” He sounded out words from several word families using short a, o, and u. After 20 minutes, his squirming became excessive, and we ended the lesson. Today I will teach him again for another short lesson.
His grandmother showed me a “beginner” picture book the boy has, but as is often true, that book is not a good “beginner” book for students learning phonics. In that book, advanced reading words are mixed in with sight words and CVC words. I recommended she set it aside for a few months.
She wondered if she should use flash cards with words printed on them to help her grandson learn. If the words are sight words which cannot be sounded out phonetically—words like “are” and “the”—then yes. But if the words are capable of being sounded out, I said the student should learn them by sounding them out. Otherwise he might think he should memorize the look of a word to pronounce it.
Should he guess at words? No. If a child learns to read following the rules of phonics, eventually he will be able to sound out almost any word, even long words like “dinosaur” and “alphabet.” Teaching a child to guess introduces a habit which will hobble him the rest of his reading life.
This student has learned to read the way phonics experts recommend, sounding out each letter. With time, almost all CVC words will become sight words for this student and he will no longer need to sound them out. But to reach that stage of reading, he needs practice sounding out words.
Teach ŭ before teaching ĕ and ĭ
Suppose you have taught your child VC (vowel-consonant) and CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words using ă and ŏ and the 16 consonants that always sound the same at the onset of words. You have had your child read lists of words with ă and ŏ shuffled. Your child is able to pronounce those words correctly.
Now it is time to move on to ŭ. I recommend teaching ŭ before teaching ĕ and ĭ. In my teaching experience, children recognize the sound associated with ŭ quicker than the sounds of either ĕ and ĭ. Some children do have trouble pronouncing ŭ, but they don’t confuse the sound with either ĕ or ĭ. They can distinguish a difference between ŭ and ĕ / ĭ. Children have a harder time distinguishing between the sounds of ĕ and ĭ. So I recommend teaching ă, ŏ and ŭ in that order.
Some of the commercially available support materials you might use with your child do not sequence the short-vowel words in this order. In that case, I recommend you jump ahead to the ŭ word section and return to the ĕ and ĭ sections later.
Sample ŭ VC and CVC words include:
Sample ŭ VC and CVC words with ă and ŏ in sentences include:
- Judd cut a nut.
- Rudd dug up a bug.
- Tess can run in the mud but not Tom.
- Tom dug a rut.
- Jan can hug a mutt.
How to teach words using ă and ŏ
Suppose you have taught your child the 16 consonant sounds which don’t vary at the beginning of words: b, d, f, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, qu, r, t, v, x, and z. Now you are ready to teach vowel sounds.
Explain what vowels are
Because you will be using the words vowel and consonant with your child as you teach, make sure you take time to explain what these words mean. Vowel refers to five letters all the time (a, e, i, o, and u) and two letters sometimes (y and w). Consonant refers to all the other letters and to y and w most of the time. For now you can leave out the y and w, but when you teach small words like by and now, mention that y and w act as vowels sometimes.
Should you say short / closed vowels? Or long / open vowels?
Today many support materials refer to vowels followed by a consonant in the same syllable (cat, hot) as closed vowels. Years ago these vowels were called short vowels, and they were pictured with a curve over the vowel as in ă, ĕ, ĭ, ŏ and ŭ. Similarly, vowels coming at the end of a syllable (go, hero) are today called open vowels by some reading support workbooks. Previously they were called long vowels and pictured with a horizontal line over them as in ā, ē, ī, ō, and ū. I will use the terms short and long since those are the terms most parents recognize. I will use markings over vowels such as ă, ĕ, ĭ, ŏ and ŭ when referring to a particular short vowel sound and ā, ē, ī, ō, and ū when referring to a particular long vowel sound.
Naming vowel sounds as short or long is important because we need a vocabulary to use with children when we refer to vowels pronounced like their letter names and vowels pronounced more softly. Whichever terms you use, make sure your child understands them.
Teaching words with a ă sound
While you are teaching the 16 consistent consonant-letter sounds, you can begin to teach one short vowel sound. I recommend starting with the letter ă because almost all phonics support materials start with the vowel ă, and because ă might be the easiest short vowel sound to master. The support materials I suggest for my students are the Explode the Code series. That series starts with ă words.
When I am teaching in person, I use flash cards with pictures of words beginning with ă such as alligator, astronaut, and apple. I recommend you teach your child to say “ă as in apple” to reinforce the letter connected to the sound.
Choose five or six consonant letter sounds your child has mastered. Using letter tiles, form two and three letter words such as am, an, at, bat, bam, tan, and mat, etc. Place the letter tiles for one word an inch or so apart and ask your child to say the sounds, keeping the picture of the apple on the table too, for reference. Repeat saying the sounds as you slowly move the letters closer and closer together until the child says the word. It might take many tries, but usually there is a Eureka! moment when the child realizes she is reading a word, not just letter sounds. Reading teachers call these tiny words CVC words, meaning consonant-vowel-consonant words.
Gradually add more consonant sounds and form more words with ă as the vowel sound. If the child loses interest, one way to extend the lesson is to use her name and write a goofy sentence such as Kim is a pan or Kim is a map. Another way is to use your name and have her end the sentence. Mom is a ____. Teach her that the vowel goes first or in the middle. Try mispronouncing a word she writes and ask her if you said it correctly.
You can buy magnetic cards which you can cut into small rectangles to attach to the back of letter tiles. Then you can work in a metal lasagna pan or pizza pan or on the refrigerator. If your child is four or five, a short lesson (ten minutes) teaching in one mode followed by another short lesson in another mode (writing words on an iPad or laptop, writing in a workbook) might be all she can handle for one session. I have given one-hour lessons to a four-year-old, but I needed to have six mini-lessons to sustain her interest.
Teaching words with a ŏ sound
When, after several days or weeks, you are sure your child can read ă words, move on to ŏ words. Create a reference card—an octopus, for example. Work on two and three letter ŏ words such as on, off, odd, Oz, nod, fob, and Bob, etc. After several days or weeks—whatever it takes—mix ŏ words with ă words.
To reinforce your work, read together picture books. When you come to a word she can pronounce, point to it and ask her to say the word. Two or three times are enough to show her that what she is learning applies to her real world.
Increase comprehension by using the SQ3R method
Ever hear of the SQ3R* (or SQRRR) reading method? SQ3R is a method of reading which improves comprehension.
- S means Survey headlines, subheadings, bold and italicized print, and graphics before reading a passage. Also read the introduction and conclusion. From them, develop an understanding of what the text concerns before you read.
- Q means Question. Write down questions you have about what you will be reading. One way is to turn the headlines and subheadings into questions.
- R means Read. Answer the questions you asked while you read. Take notes, highlight, and draw diagrams to help you understand and remember what you read.
- R means Recite. Say out loud what you have learned from your reading. Use your own words. This process helps move the information into your long-term memory.
- R means Review. Save your annotated text or notes and study them many times.
SQ3R has evolved into SQ4R for some readers, who suggest the fourth R should be Rewrite. Write a summary of the passage in the margins, on post-it notes, on notebook paper or on computer/tablet/phone.
Can this method be used with young readers? Absolutely. If you are reading a book about whales to your preschooler, for example, first survey the cover, read the title, page through the book, and look at the pictures. Ask what the book is about and what the youngster hopes to learn from the book. Then read the book. Ask the child to tell you what the book said. Later that day and the next day, again ask the child to tell what the book was about or to draw a picture of what the book was about.
*SQ3R was developed by Francis P. Robinson and described in his 1946 book Effective Study.
Techniques for teaching a young beginning reader
I learned to read when I was in first grade, when I was six years old going on seven. But so many of the beginning readers I teach today are much younger. Right now I am working with a five-year-old kindergartener, one of the youngest boys in his class. Although he is bright and ready to learn to read, he is also fidgety and inattentive.
Maybe you are working at home during the pandemic with such a kindergartener? How do you teach such a child without both you and he becoming frustrated?
The answer is to have multiple ways of teaching the same concept, so when attention wanes, you can try different approaches.
Suppose you are teaching blends at the beginning of short-vowel one-syllable words. For such a child, I would schedule either multiple ten-minute lessons, or a thirty-minute lesson divided into three parts. What could those parts include?
- Review using lists for five minutes. Reading lists of words is a good way to begin. Reading lists is boring, so move on quickly. If the words are printed in large type with lots of white space, that helps the words to look “friendly.”
- Using flash cards make great reviews too. They also can become boring quickly.
- Making words of letter tiles covers a lot of words in a short amount of time.
- Reading words on BINGO-like cards of words turns learning into fun. Nine words per card (three words across by three words down) is few enough not to overwhelm the child. Ask the student to cover a word when you pronounce it. Then ask the child to pronounce the word and you cover it. Pennies or tiny candies used as markers offer incentive to play this game.
- Reading cartoons in workbooks can be fun. The drawings attract the child, but sometimes they offer clues to words which the child does not sound out, so be careful.
- Working on appropriate workbook pages from a supplementary series is another approach.
- Having the child handwrite words reinforces them and improves printing skills.
- “Writing” words in a dish of sand or sugar can seem more like fun than learning. I would use this type lesson at the end of the time period because other approaches might seem boring in comparison.
- The same goes for online learning. Often it is more attractive than “analog” methods. But old-fashioned methods can target the child’s specific needs quicker.
“How do I teach my grandson to read remotely?”
“How do I teach my grandson to read remotely?” asked a grandmother. She plans to use Zoom, Facetime, and ready-to-go reading materials for an hour daily. After testing the boy informally, she believes she needs to start from scratch to fill in any gaps in basic phonics.
Here is what I advised her:
First, buy two copies of “Why Johnny Can’t Read” by Rudolph Flesch. Send one to your grandson and you keep one. Go to the back where there are lists of words. Start on page one, asking the boy to pronounce the sound of each letter shown. When he can do that, move on to the page of short a words. Have the boy read the short a words, or a portion of them.
Reading lists of words is tiring, so do maybe ten minutes of such work and ask the boy’s parents to do another ten minutes at night. Or read from the list at the beginning of the lesson, then do something else, and then come back to the list. Move through the lists at whatever pace indicates that the boy is mastering the words.
Why use “Why Johnny Can’t Read” a 65-year-old resource? The simple answer is because I know it works. I have used this phonics-based resource for almost 35 years with native born children and with immigrant children. All of them hated it, true, but all of them learned to read quickly. There are other reading primers, but for me this is a tried and true resource. It’s available in bookstores and online.
Second, buy two copies of “Explode the Code” workbooks 1, 1 ½, 2 and 2 ½. (Eventually, buy the next sets in this series, but for starts, these workbooks are enough.) This series teaches reading using a phonics-based approach. Kids like it because of the silly illustrations. Have the child start reading while you follow along on your copy, noting and correcting mistakes. Eventually, the child might do some of the pages for homework or with his parents.
“Explode the Code” reinforces the harder work of reading lists of words. It does not follow the exact sequencing of skills in “Why Johnny Can’t Read,” but you can adapt one to the other easily.
Why “Explode the Code”? I have used this series with dozens of children, and all have liked the silliness of the drawings. For children whose vocabulary is limited, the drawings and distractor words offer opportunities to develop new vocabulary. There are other workbook series, but because of the humor and sequence of phonics development in “Explode the Code,” I like it.
Third, buy a set of letter tiles. You can use the tiles from a Scrabble game or from Bananagrams. Or use a keyboard. What you want to do is to introduce, teach and review new concepts. using tiles or computer words. If you are teaching short a, for example, manipulate the tiles so the child can see them to form “cat” and then “hat” and then “fat,” etc. Changing the first letter while keeping the ending vowel and consonant is easier for beginning readers to decode. Using tiles or computer-generated words enables you to go quickly. Later, you can move from “mat” to “mate” or from “mick” to “mike” and back and forth quickly to show differences in spellings and sounds.
Fourth, recommend to the child’s parents that the child watch the Netflix series “Alphablocks,” an animated series using silly letter characters to teach phonics. This British series offers tiny segments of three or four minutes to teach particular phonics skills. Even three-year-olds will learn to recognize letters from watching this series. Older children will be able to read words as they pop up on the screen.
All of these materials are readily available, allowing you to start teaching immediately. Young children need variety, so move from one resource to another every 10 or 15 minutes. The younger or more distractible the child, the more necessary it is to have a variety of approaches—as well as learning materials the child can manipulate, like the tiles.
Reading lists and reading tile-made words or computer-screen words does not require the fine motor coordination some beginning readers lack. When I use “Explode the Code,” for some children I allow drawing lines from words to drawings rather than writing words. Keep in mind you are teaching reading, and even though it would be nice for the child to print the letters, or to spell correctly, that is not necessary to read. For particularly uncoordinated children, I will write or draw or encircle providing they do the reading. Anything to keep them reading!
Start each lesson with a quick—two or three minute—review of past work, slowing down if the concepts haven’t been learned. Then introduce new work or repeat old work if that is needed. At the end of the lesson, review the new work of the lesson. Review, teach new, review again.
Finally, FYI, I am not being paid to suggest these particular products. I am suggesting them because I know they work, they are available and they are affordable.
Please share your experiences teaching reading online. That is the kind of information we are all wanting right now.
5 ways to keep beginning readers engaged
The younger the reading student, the more activities a teacher needs to keep the student engaged during a lesson. For four- and five-year-olds, I come prepared with a bagful of reading activities such as
- A stack of pictures showing CVC words (flag, map, dog, cat, and pen) which the student sorts into two piles: those that have the desired vowel or consonant sound, and those that don’t.
- Letter tiles which I use to form words, phrases and sentences for the student to read. Sentences using the student’s own name attract the youngest readers. Letting the student create some of the words. also keeps the student engaged.
- Stories written with the simplest CVC vocabulary which the student and I read together, and then which she reads independently.
- Twelve pictures of rhyming words on index cards .
Another kind of reading assignment that my youngest reading students like is reading and answering silly questions like the following:
- Can an ant wink to a cat? Yes No
- Can a bug land on a lip? Yes No
- Will a duck swim in a mug? Yes No
- Can a big cat fit in a bag? Yes No
- Will a dog dig with a pen? Yes No
The questions consist of whatever examples of the reading concept we are studying at the time such as CVC words, blends, or two-syllable short-vowel words. Almost all the questions are ridiculous and the more ridiculous the better. Having colored pencils or markers to use intensifies the fun.
I find that the more hands-on the activity, the better. Early readers sometimes cannot print letters, but they can make ovals around words or draw matching lines. They can hold a small stack of pictures and sort them into piles. They can move around letter tiles.
The more busy their bodies are, the more likely they are to stay engaged.
What to do when a child says “It hurts” as he reads
I was talking to my friend about her summer visit with her grandson who is about to start first grade. Together the two of them were reading a beginner reader. The boy was reading the three- and four-letter words well.
But when he came to a longer word, he would look up with sad, sad eyes and say, “It hurts!”
“What hurts?” his grandmother would ask.
“That word hurts. It’s too big,” he would say.
It would be a funny story if the pain the boy felt were not real. I have seen this with other children too.
In particular I have seen children squirm when we first attempt CVCe words after mastering CVC words. That silent e at the end of words seems like an impossible hurdle: so intimidating that children would rather stop learning than face it.
I’ve seen the fear, too, when children are learning how to read two-syllable words. When there are twin consonants, as in “little” or “yellow,” and I tell them to split the word between the identical consonants, there is no problem. But when we attempt to read syllables in words with different consonants between two vowels such as “Wilson” or “random,” the children freak.
Their fear is real.
One time I moved from CVC to CVCe words with a girl who had had no previous phonics learning. She could read most CVC words easily, so I spent only a few lessons reviewing them before moving on to CVCe words. She looked at those words as if they were spitting fire. She stopped speaking, shook her head, crossed her arms in front of her and pushed back her chair. We had reached the limit of her understanding, and she feared what lay ahead.
If this happens to you, I suggest
Figure out where the student’s learning boundary is. What has the student learned fairly confidently, and what next step brings on fear.
Begin each lesson with a review of what the student already knows. Compliment the student. Make students believe in their abilities.
Introduce the next concept slowly, incrementally. For example, if you are introducing CVCe words, start with only one vowel such as a. Don’t try to teach all five vowels in the same lesson.
Show the child similar words with and without the silent e, such as “cap” and “cape,” and “tap” and “tape.” Or “mit” and “mitten,” and “kit” and “kitten.” Since replacing first consonants is easier than replacing second consonants, stick to the same second consonant for the first lesson. Keep as much of the words the same as you can so there are fewer variables.
If at the next lesson the student seems to have forgotten the previous lesson, accept that and start again. Some children move quickly through phonics, and others move slowly, or stall at learning certain skills.
If the child learns slowly, advance slowly. There is no right or wrong length of time to learn phonics skills. What you are teaching the child is a life-long skill, so if it takes five months to conquer CVCe, so what? Over a lifetime of 80-plus years, isn’t it better to learn to read well than to forever “hurt” when you see hard words?